Most of us know that eating fresh fruit and vegetables is good for our health. However, people diagnosed with diabetes may avoid fruit due to its high sugar content. New research investigates the health benefits of fresh fruit consumption among people with diabetes.

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A new study suggests that daily consumption of fresh fruit may significantly benefit people with diabetes.

Diabetes affects more than 420 million people worldwide and more than 29 million people in the United States alone.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diabetes caused more than 1.5 million deaths in 2012. In the U.S., diabetes is a leading cause of death, accounting for almost 80,000 yearly deaths, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fresh fruit and vegetables are healthful for most of us, but people with diabetes may abstain from eating fresh fruit because of its high sugar content.

This is why a team of researchers – led by Huaidong Du of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom – decided to investigate the health effects of consuming fresh fruit in patients both with and without diabetes.

The authors were also motivated by the fact that, to their knowledge, no studies have so far investigated the long-term effects of fresh fruit consumption on the rate of diabetes or on the risk of diabetes-induced cardiovascular events.

The research was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

The researchers examined the effects of fruit consumption on almost 500,000 people enrolled in the China Kadoorie Biobank national study. Participants were aged between 30 and 79 and lived in 10 different areas across China.

The participants were clinically followed for approximately 7 years.

During this follow-up period, 9,504 cases of diabetes were identified in participants who did not have diabetes at the beginning of the study.

Using Cox regression models, researchers analyzed the correlations with consumption of fresh fruit while also adjusting for age, sex, location, socioeconomic status, body mass index (BMI), and family history of diabetes.

In total, 18.8 percent of the participants said that they consumed fresh fruit every day, and 6.4 percent said that they never or rarely consumed them. Those who had been previously diagnosed with diabetes were three times as likely to not consume fruit than those without diabetes or with screen-detected diabetes.

The team found that people who did not have diabetes at the beginning of the study and consumed fresh fruit in high amounts had a significantly lower risk of diabetes. Additionally, those who had diabetes at the beginning of the study and consumed high amounts of fruit had a significantly lower risk of dying from any cause, as well as a lower risk of developing cardiovascular complications.

More specifically, in comparison with the other study participants, those who consumed fresh fruit daily had a 12 percent lower relative risk of developing diabetes.

Study participants who had diabetes at baseline but consumed fresh fruit more than three times per week had a 17 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and up to a 28 percent lower risk of developing both major and minor cardiovascular complications.

“Major” cardiovascular complications refer to events that affect large blood vessels (ischemic heart disease and stroke, for instance), while “minor” refers to those affecting small blood vessels (such as kidney diseases, eye disease, and neuropathy).

In absolute terms, this means that daily fruit-consumers had a 0.2 percent decrease in their absolute risk of developing diabetes over a 5-year period, and people diagnosed with diabetes had a 1.9 percent absolute reduction in the risk of mortality from all causes.

Du and team explain the significance of these findings:

These findings suggest that a higher intake of fresh fruit is potentially beneficial for primary and secondary prevention of diabetes. For individuals who have already developed diabetes, restricted consumption of fresh fruit, which is common in many parts of the world […] should not be encouraged.”

The study was purely observational, so no conclusions were drawn regarding causality.

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